Federal agencies are cutting procurement time with PROPRICER, Amazon pitches facial recognition tech to ICE amid controversy, and a new report shows poor debriefings can lead to bid protests. All this and more in Public Spend Forum’s Weekly Roundup for November 2, 2018.
Ask any contracting professional, whether private or public sector, and they’ll tell you the same thing about their biggest complaint about the federal procurement process: it takes too long. Yet some agencies have discovered an easy and innovative way to speed up procurement by simplifying the pricing process. Parts of the Navy, Air Force, and Energy Department have evaluated and implemented PROPRICER. It allows agencies to obtain the data for a proposal in the exact same format as the contractor uses which means agencies don’t have to recreate entire proposals to analyze them. “We’ve seen a lot of people save significant amounts of time in the recreation of proposal data,” said Michael Weaver, PROPRICER product innovation director.
As criticism swirled from the company’s workforce, employees in the Amazon Web Services cloud-computing unit met with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to present artificial intelligence (AI) tools, like Rekognition, which uses AI to quickly identify people in photos and videos. The software enables law enforcement to track individuals from cameras in public places. “As we usually do, we followed up with customers who were interested in learning more about how to use our services,” the spokeswoman said. “Immigration and Customs Enforcement was one of those organizations where there was follow-up discussion.” ICE has no current contract with Amazon, agency spokesman Matthew Bourke wrote in an email. The agency regularly meets with vendors to learn more about the tools they are offering, he said.
The latest WT Insider Report on post-award debriefings and bid protests shows that poor debriefings often lead to bid protests. So while bid protests often are criticized, they are really a symptom of a problem and not the main problem. Generally, companies don’t want to protest. Their research showed that a nearly three-quarters felt protests damaged the long-term relationship, but nearly the same percentage said they would protest again and that illustrates how important quality debriefings are. Companies want to hear from their customers how their proposal fell short and that kind of feedback can change how companies do business, what kind of solutions they develop, and even who they team with in the future.
Governments spend one-fifth of their budgets on procuring services and goods from the private sector, but women-led businesses only supply 1 percent of this market. Many believe there is no bias in government contracting but having the data to prove this bias can be powerful in creating systemic change. Lack of clarity over opportunities can be a serious hindrance to entry into the public sector for most businesses and this can be even worse for women-run businesses where other structural inequalities can exacerbate existing barriers to entry. The industry needs to collect, publish, and monitor gender disaggregated data especially in areas such as procurement to promote women-led businesses. Governments can mitigate gender gaps in procurement by diversifying supply chains and contracting with small to medium enterprises and women-led businesses.
The amount of time it takes for agencies to issue solicitations and the complexity people bring to their commercial IT purchases are “unnecessary,” Mark Hopson, 18F’s innovation specialist, said. When it comes to buying digital tools and services, agencies get too hung up on what they believe they’re not allowed to do and it doesn’t have to be that way.
The Technology Modernization Board recently announced it has chosen recipients for three additional Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) awards. The Department of Labor, Department of Agriculture, and the General Services Administration will collectively receive $23.5 million for three distinct modernization projects. The winning proposals, a press release states, “exemplify a commitment to improving citizen services, modernizing legacy technology, lowering operational costs, and creating a secure environment.” With this latest announcement, $31.5 million remains unallocated in the TMF’s current pot.
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